“Of Gods and Men,” one of the most compelling religious films of the past thirty years, tells the story of the Trappists of Tibhirine, seven brave men who were murdered by Islamist extremists in 1996. Though this fact is not well known, the twentieth century produced more Christian martyrs than all of the preceding nineteen centuries combined. The monks who are the subjects of this film were among the last to die for the faith in that terrible hundred year period.
Why, in God’s name, are we entering a third war in the Middle East? America finds itself embroiled already in armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now we have rained missiles down on Libya. When President Obama was asked about the Libyan incursion during a press conference in El Salvador, his answers were distressingly vague. As to the direction of the endeavor, the President said, “NATO is meeting today…to work out the mechanisms for command and control. I expect that over the next several days you will have clarity and a meeting of the minds of all those who are participating in the process.” One might be forgiven for wondering why greater clarity hadn’t been achieved prior to the dropping of bombs. And after assuring the gathered reporters that the mission in Libya was clearly defined as humanitarian assistance to the Libyan people and that our involvement would be a “matter of days and not weeks,” Obama admitted that as long as Gaddafi remains in power he will always pose a threat to his own people. In other words, the mission isn’t that clearly defined and the time of our involvement is more or less open-ended. Are we there to help the rebels? To protect innocent lives? To get rid of Gaddafi? To establish political stability in Libya? To assure that a democratic polity is established there? I’m not the least bit convinced that the administration knows, and if they don’t know, they won’t know when to declare victory and go home.
An internet controversy is percolating around a soon-to-be-published book by well-known evangelical preacher Rob Bell. In this text, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell apparently advocates the “universalist” position on salvation, according to which everyone in the end is saved and that Hell, accordingly, is empty. Many of his evangelical co-religionists are arguing that this doctrine runs counter to classical biblical Christianity and is designed to appeal to a trendy post-modern audience for whom the only unforgiveable sin is to be “exclusive.” This dust-up over Hell made the main page of the CNN website the other day and has prompted tens of thousands of responses and questions. Obviously Hell is still (forgive the pun) a burning question among both believers and non-believers.
On November 1st 1755, a terrible earthquake struck Lisbon, Portugal. The temblor, which lasted about ten minutes, destroyed most of the buildings in the city and buried thousands of people in rubble. As would be the case with the San Francisco earthquake a hundred and fifty years later, fires broke out in the wake of the Lisbon quake that claimed the lives of many more people and destroyed much of economic infrastructure of the city. Finally, a series of tidal waves ensued, which killed many who had gathered at the shore to escape the flames.
“The Adjustment Bureau” is one of the most explicitly theological films of the last 25 years. The only problem is that it proposes an extraordinarily bad theology. It tells the story of David Morris (played convincingly by Matt Damon), an up-and-coming American politician. Morris has just lost a Senate election but he has met Elise, a woman for whom he feels an immediate and overwhelming attraction. She gives him her phone number and David, despite his electoral defeat, is enthused about pursuing this new relationship.